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New 2019 Oak Island Discovery- Another Wrinkle in the Wilkins Map

Another Wrinkle in the Wilkins Map

Hello, and welcome to Another Wrinkle in the Wilkins Map. In this video, we’re going to reveal a new research-related discovery pertaining to one of the strangest chapters in the history of the Oak Island treasure hunt. To give this revelation some context, we’ll first dive into the tale of Captain Kidd, a notorious Scottish pirate whose legendary lost treasure, some believe, may lie at the bottom of the Money Pit. Next, we’ll explore the story of the Wilkins Chart- the tale of an eccentric British journalist and a mysterious treasure map with an unusual connection to the Oak Island mystery. Finally, we’ll draw back the curtain on a secret that has remained hidden for over sixty years. Without further ado, here is Another Wrinkle in the Wilkins Map. Enjoy!

If you’re into mysteries, buried treasure, or the History Channel, chances are that you’re familiar with Oak Island, Nova Scotia, the site of Canada’s longest treasure hunt. As of 2019, no one truly knows what lies buried beneath Oak Island, although many theories have been put forth purporting to explain the nature of the island’s elusive treasure and the identity of those who buried it.

When Daniel McGinnis, John Smith, and Anthony Vaughan first discovered Oak Island’s so-called ‘Money Pit’ in 1795, they initially suspected that they had stumbled upon a cache of long-forgotten pirate loot. From the 16th Century to the late 18th Century, Mahone Bay, in which Oak Island is located, had been a frequent haunt of pirates, and as a result, local yarns of lost pirate plunder abounded. One particular legend favoured by the early settlers of nearby Chester, Nova Scotia, was that surrounding Captain William Kidd- a 17th Century Scottish privateer who, prior to his execution for piracy in 1701, is said to have buried a fabulous treasure on some undisclosed island. Following the discovery of the Money Pit, many locals believed Oak Island to be the repository of Captain Kidd’s legendary treasure.


The Tale of Captain Kidd

The tale of Captain Kidd begins in 1688- a momentous year in English history. The British throne was occupied by King James the Second, a Catholic monarch. At that time, most of England- and, more importantly, most members of the English Parliament- were Protestant, and many of them had little love for their Catholic king. Determined to put a fellow Protestant on the British throne, a cabal of Parliamentarians secretly plotted with King James’ nephew and son-in-law, Prince William III of the Netherlands. Their scheme resulted in a successful coup d’etat in which Prince William, with a fleet of 600 ships and 40,000 mercenaries, sailed through the Strait of Dover and across the English Channel. The Dutch prince and his soldiers disembarked at Torbay, marched on London, and seized the throne from King James in what the Parliamentarians dubbed the “Glorious Revolution”.

Although the deposed King James had been on friendly terms with Louis XIV, the powerful King of France, the Dutch prince-turned-King of England was an old and bitter enemy of the French monarch. Immediately after his coronation, King William the Third thrust Britain into the ongoing Nine Years’ War, a conflict between France and much of continental Europe.

At that time, a mysterious 35-year-old Scottish sailor named William Kidd was at sea in the Caribbean, serving aboard a French privateering ship called the Sainte Rose. Since France was now at war with England, the ship’s captain was given a letter of marque to capture English vessels.

Naturally, Kidd and seven other patriotic British crewmembers were loath to attack fellow Englishman. Under the leadership of Kidd and a Cornish privateer named Robert Culliford, the Britons mutinied against the Sainte Rose’s French crew, renamed the ship the Blessed William, and nominated Kidd their new captain.

Captain Kidd and his crew sailed the Blessed William into Nevis, a small English island colony about 190 nautical miles southeast of Puerto Rico, where the governor of the colony welcomed them into his own small fleet. Although the governor could not afford to pay Kidd and his crew, he allowed them to take whatever plunder might be had from any French ships and settlements they came across. And thus William Kidd became a respectable English privateer.

After a year of defending the island of Nevis from the French navy- an occupation which offered little in the way of treasure- Kidd’s old friend and fellow mutineer, Robert Culliford, decided that he’d had his fill of privateering. While Kidd was ashore the island of Antigua, Culliford and the rest of the crew, tired of the strictures of licensed privateering, left the docks and sailed into the Caribbean to pursue the pirate life. Relieved of his command, Kidd boarded a ship to New York, where he promptly married a wealthy English widow and became one of the richest men in town.

Despite being an active and upstanding member of the little colony, Kidd quickly tired of domestic life and returned to sea. For four years, he worked as a merchant captain, shipping goods to and from New England and the Caribbean, and earning himself a good reputation in the process. His new occupation did little to satisfy his appetite for adventure, and so in December 1695, William Kidd sailed for London, England, where he hoped to apply for a captain’s commission in the British Royal Navy.

By pure chance, Kidd bumped into a fellow New Yorker on the streets of London- a wealthy businessman named Robert Livingston. When Kidd told Livingston of his ambition, the businessman introduced him to his Irish friend Richard Coote, the Earl of Bellomont, who also happened to be the newly-appointed Governor of New York. The two men asked Kidd if he would consider accepting a commission to lead a pirate-hunting expedition along the so-called Pirate Round, a sailing route that led across the Atlantic, around the Cape of Good Hope, past Madagascar, to the Arabian Sea and the Red Sea beyond. There, pirates plundered Indian passenger ships filled with exotic goods and wealthy Mecca-bound pilgrims, as well as the British East India Company’s merchant vessels which often accompanied them- predations which strained England’s valuable relationship with India’s Mughal Empire.

For William Kidd, the offer seemed the opportunity of a lifetime. He accepted the invitation and secured financial backing from Livingston, Coote, and four powerful English aristocrats who insisted upon the condition that they receive three quarters of any treasure that Kidd and his crew managed to acquire. Finally, King William the Third himself gave Captain Kidd a letter of marque reserving 10% of the loot for the British Crown, and giving Kidd royal license to capture or sink pirate ships or French vessels he came across.

Equipped with a brand new 34-cannon oared frigate called the Adventure Galley and accompanied by a hand-picked crew, Captain Kidd sailed down the River Thames. On the way to the sea, his men disrespected the crew of a yacht of the Royal Navy. As punishment for the offence, the yacht’s captain pressed most of Kidd’s sailors into naval service, leaving the Scottish captain with a barely functional skeleton crew.

Short-handed, Kidd sailed across the Atlantic to the port of New York, where he supplemented his meagre crew with a large number of hardened pirates. In order to convince these rough sailors to sign aboard his ship, Kidd agreed to give them 75% of whatever plunder they might acquire as opposed to the 25% stipulated by his license. In doing so, Kidd violated his letter of marque- a misdemeanor which would contribute to his eventual undoing.

His ranks filled, Captain Kidd set out on the Pirate Round, determined to abide by the conditions of his license. Rather than French or pirate vessels, however, Kidd and his crew met only with misfortune. On December 11, the Adventure Galley was approached by a convoy of British Royal Navy men-of-war. The flotilla’s commander, Commodore Thomas Warren, ordered Kidd to accompany him to the Cape of Good Hope on the southern tip of Africa, hoping to impress some of his sailors into service in his own fleet.

Rather than deliver members of his own hard-won crew to Commodore Warren, Captain Kidd decided to slip away in the night and continue on alone. This evasion led Warren to believe that Kidd and his crew had something to hide, prompting him to spread the rumour throughout the British East India Company that privateer Captain Kidd had gone rogue.

The crew of the Adventure Galley rounded the southern tip of Africa and sailed along the coast of Madagascar. When they failed to encounter any enemy ships in that notorious pirate haven, they sailed northwest to the Comoro Islands to patch up their ship. There, two thirds of the crew came down with dysentery. Forty of them died within a week.

When the disease ran its course and the survivors had regained sufficient strength to continue their voyage, the crew of the Adventure Galley headed north to hunt for pirates and Frenchmen. In late June, they arrived at the mouth of the Red Sea and lay at anchor, ready to pounce on any enemy ships that approached. By this time, Captain Kidd’s crew was growing restless, and whispers of mutiny rippled throughout the decks.

Although the crew of the Adventure Galley never encountered any pirates in the Arabian Sea, they were fired on by English, Dutch, Portuguese, and Arabian ships whose captains thought they were pirates themselves.

Weeks turned into months, and by the fall of 1697, Kidd’s crew was on the brink of mutiny. On October 30, 1697, one of the crewmembers- a gunner named William Moore- sat on deck sharpening a chisel and muttering under his breath. When Kidd inquired as to Moore’s rumblings, the gunner urged Kidd to attack a nearby Dutch ship and plunder its cargo- a flagrant act of piracy. When Kidd refused, a quarrel ensued which ended with Kidd cracking Moore over the head with an iron-ringed bucket. The blow fractured Moore’s skull, and the gunner succumbed to his wound the following day.

Not long after Moore’s death, Kidd and his crew, through the practice of flying false colours, managed to capture a French ship without a shot being fired- a capture in accordance with Kidd’s commission. The crew of the Adventure Galley appropriated two chests of opium, twelve bales of cotton, and other odds and ends from the French vessel before continuing down the Malabar Coast of southwestern India.

On January 30, 1698, the Scottish captain, using similar tactics, captured the massive Quedagh Merchant, an Indian merchant vessel loaded with silk, satin, gold, silver, jewels, and a variety of valuable East Indian goods. Kidd learned that the ship was chartered by the French East India Company and owned by a company of Armenian merchants, and was initially satisfied that this capture was a legitimate one. However, upon further investigation, he learned that the ship’s captain was English, and that the vessel was part of the same Muslim fleet whose piratical predators he was tasked with combatting. Worse, a large proportion of the ship’s cargo was owned by a senior official of the Mughal Empire. Kidd tried to convince his crew to return the ship’s cargo, but the disgruntled sailors would have none of it. Unwilling to risk a mutiny, Kidd reluctantly acceded to their demands and set sail for New York. His capture of the Quedagh Merchant branded him a pirate, and his notorious reputation quickly preceded him throughout the Atlantic.

With the two freshly-captured merchant ships trailing behind them, Captain Kidd and his crew sailed across the Indian Ocean to Madagascar. Before heading home, the Scottish captain decided to pay a visit to Ile Sainte-Marie, an infamous pirate haunt off Madagascar’s eastern coast. Sure enough, he found a pirate ship bobbing in the harbor- the first of its kind that he and his crew had encountering throughout their entire grueling voyage. Kidd soon learned that the frigate was captained by none other than Robert Culliford, the pirate who had mutinied against him in the Caribbean.

Hungry for revenge, the privateer donned his cutlass, loaded a brace of flintlock pistols, and asked his crew to help him take the ship. Many of his sailors were former pirates themselves however, and had come to despise their strict Scottish captain. Rather than attack Culliford, the vast majority opted to throw in their lot with the Cornish buccaneer. They defected to the other ship, leaving Kidd with a mere fifteen loyal sailors. Having miraculously retained most of their precious cargo, Captain Kidd and his tiny crew abandoned the rotting Adventure Galley for the Quedagh Merchant and headed for home.

The privateers followed trade winds across the Atlantic to the Caribbean. There, they learned that the governor of every English colony had orders to arrest them for piracy. After bartering silks and other fabrics for provisions and a new ship, Captain Kidd followed the Gulf Stream north to New England.

Just outside the New York harbor, Kidd received word that one of his main backers, Richard Coote, the Governor of New York, had agreed to offer Kidd clemency for his piracy. In a letter, the Irish aristocrat invited Kidd to sail into Boston Harbour, where he was currently doing business. Captain Kidd decided to accept the invitation. Before heading to Boston, however, he cached a large part of his treasure on Gardiner’s Island, off the eastern shores of Long Island, New York, just in case he found himself in need of leverage.

Captain Kidd’s suspicions were well founded. Less than a week after arriving in Boston Harbour, he and his crew were arrested by the local police and imprisoned in the city jail. Richard Coote, one of his major backers, had betrayed him.

Over the following year, Kidd enduring a long imprisonment followed by a hugely unfair trial in which he was convicted of piracy and the murder of his gunner, William Moore. After the verdict was passed, Kidd sent a letter to the Speaker of the English House of Commons claiming that he had hidden a hoard of treasure valued at 100,000 pounds sterling- worth twenty million American dollars today- and that he would help find it for the Crown if he was spared the noose.

His entreaty fell on deaf ears. On May 23, 1701, at London’s Execution Dock, Captain William Kidd was hanged. His body was then suspended in a gibbet over the River Thames for three years as a warning to pirates.


Captain Kidd’s Treasure

Following Kidd’s execution, Englishmen throughout the Empire speculated as to the nature and whereabouts of the treasure the pirate captain claimed to have hidden. Could Kidd have invented the tale as a desperate attempt to delay his appointment with the gallows? Or was there truly a hoard of gold and silver hidden away on some lonely shore, just waiting to be discovered?

Legend has it that, half a century later, in the mid-1700s, an old sailor from New England lay dying. On his deathbed, he confessed to his family that he had been a member of Captain Kidd’s crew. Before passing away, he disclosed that he had helped the pirate captain bury his sizeable treasure on an island east of Boston.

Naturally, when Daniel McGinnis, John Smith, and Anthony Vaughan discovered a depression in the soil on Oak Island, with a block and tackle suspended from the oak tree that grew at its edge, they hoped that they had stumbled upon Kidd’s legendary loot. So did most of the other treasure hunters to try their luck on Oak Island throughout the 19th Century.


Wilkins’ Map

In 1934, the Oak Island treasure hunt was taken up by Gilbert Hedden, a retired steel manufacturer from New Jersey. His brief and exciting tenure on the island was marked by one of the most bizarre chapters in the history of Oak Island.

In 1937, Hedden’s lawyer, Reginald V. Harris, read a recently-published book written by British journalist Harold T. Wilkins entitled Captain Kidd and his Skeleton Island. The first twelve chapters of this book describe the life of Captain Kidd and the aftermath of his execution. The next seven chapters detail various hunts for his supposed treasure. The final chapters of Wilkins’ book reveal a new break in the case: the discovery of four 17th Century treasure maps said to have once belonged to Captain Kidd.

These treasure maps, Wilkins claimed, were recently discovered by a wealthy Englishman named Hubert Palmer, who collected genuine pirate artifacts as a hobby. Throughout the 1930s, Palmer acquired four pieces of 17th Century furniture bearing engravings which indicated that they once belonged to William Kidd. Within each of these artifacts was a secret compartment, and within each compartment was a treasure map depicting a particular island in the South China Sea.

At the end of his book, Wilkins included a number of photographs featuring the four pieces of antique furniture, Kidd’s letter of marque, and various portraits of the notorious 17th Century pirate. Hidden among these photographs is an image of a hand-drawn treasure map with a reversed compass, which an accompanying description describes as the first chart that Palmer discovered in Captain Kidd’s supposed sea chest. The map included a cryptic legend which reads:

18 West and by 7 East on Rock

39 Southwest 14 North Tree

7 by 8 by 4

Reginald Harris couldn’t help but notice that this treasure map, when flipped right-side up, bore remarkable resemblance to Oak Island. Even more intriguing was the fact that many of the map’s features corresponded with landmarks on Oak Island. The lagoon, for example, was eerily congruent with Oak Island’s swamp; the elevations shown on the map were in the same locations as hills on Oak Island; and cross on the map matched the location of the Money Pit. In total, Harris identified fourteen resemblances between Wilkins’ map and Oak Island, and only one minor discrepancy.

Harris showed the map to Gilbert Hedden, who was similarly fascinated by its uncanny resemblance to Oak Island. Hedden became convinced that Wilkins’ chart might, in fact, be a real Oak Island treasure map drawn up by the original Money Pit builders, and so he sent a letter to Harold Wilkins voicing his suspicion.

Wilkins sent a letter back to Hedden assuring him that the treasure map in his book was not a map of Oak Island, but rather a depiction of an island in some ‘eastern sea’ far from the Atlantic. Hedden was unconvinced. To him, the similarities between Wilkins’ map and Oak Island were too strong to be coincidental. He then turned his attention towards the mysterious directions at the bottom of the chart.

The first line of directions seemed to suggest that the first step in the treasure hunt was to locate some sort of prominent rock, probably situated on the beach somewhere near the spot at which treasure hunters would be most likely to disembark. In the case of Oak Island, that beach was probably Smith’s Cove, the section of the island most exposed to the ocean. While discussing this possibility with an elder treasure hunter named Frederick Blair, Hedden learned that two mysterious drilled rocks had been discovered on Oak Island long ago, and that one of these rocks lay on the shores of Smith’s Cove. Hedden had his crew search for these stones, and sure enough, a rock with a 2-inch-deep, 1-inch-in-diameter hole was discovered at Smith’s Cove. Another rock with a similar hole was subsequently found about fifty feet north of the Money Pit.

The rocks were found to be exactly 25 rods apart from one another, rods being an old English unit of measurement amounting to about five metres, or five and a half yards. Exactly seven rods west of the stone at Smith’s Cove, and eighteen rods east of the western stone, lay the Cave-in Pit, a mysterious depression believed by many to be the site of an airshaft dug by the builders of the Smith’s Cove flood tunnel. The Cave-in Pit appeared to be the place indicated by the first line of directions on Wilkins’ map.

After making that tantalizing discovery, Hedden focused on the second line of directions. First, he had one of his employees, named Amos Nauss, run a line thirty rods southwest of the Cave-in Pit. In Nauss’ words:

“Hedden gave me some idea that there was something down there at the beach that he wanted to find. So I explored around there with a hoe. I was clawing around and suddenly I hit one rock, then another and another, all in line with each other. So I decided there was something there, and I started clearing it and called Hedden over.”

Nauss had rediscovered the stone triangle, a mysterious arrangement of beach stones on the South Shore Cove forming an arrow which pointed due north, in the direction of the Money Pit.

Astonished, Hedden ran a line fourteen rods north of the stone triangle. Sure enough, the line ran to the edge of the Money Pit, where legend says a large oak tree once stood. The directions on Wilkins’ map seemed to apply perfectly to Oak Island.

Although he could make neither heads nor tails of the last line of directions, Hedden was convinced more than ever that the chart in Wilkins’ book was a genuine Oak Island treasure map. Determined to follow this new and exciting lead, he decided to travel to England and meet Harold Wilkins in person. When Hedden informed the writer of his intentions, Wilkins wrote back that he was willing to meet with the treasure hunter, but that such a journey would be a waste of time, as the map in his book was definitely not an Oak Island treasure map. Nevertheless, Hedden made the trip to England and met with Wilkins in December, 1937, in his London hotel room outside Green Park, Piccadilly. His experience was both strange and discouraging.

Upon meeting Hedden, the English author confessed that the map in his book was, in fact, a diagram of his own devising. His publisher had demanded that he include some sort of authentic-looking treasure map in his book. Hubert Palmer, the owner of the four Captain Kidd maps which Wilkins described in his book, would not allow him to publish photos of his charts, and so Wilkins had no choice but to draw his own treasure map based on his recollection of Palmer’s maps. When his publishers further stipulated that his map contain instructions on how to locate the treasure for added spice, Wilkins fabricated the three lines of directions using nothing more than his imagination.


Baffled by the remarkable connection between Wilkins’ ad-libbed treasure hunting instructions and the landmarks on Oak Island, Hedden told the journalist all about the mysterious drilled stones, the stone triangle, the Cave-in Pit, and the oak tree believed to have once stood beside the Money Pit, and the uncanny relationship between these landmarks and the instructions on Wilkins’ map. As Hedden explained the extraordinary coincidence, Wilkins became convinced that he must be the reincarnation of a 17th Century pirate, perhaps even Captain Kidd himself, and that his subconscious mind had conjured up some long-forgotten memory of the map leading to Kidd’s lost treasure, buried on Oak Island. After Wilkins enthusiastically revealed his conviction to Hedden, the latter began to suspect that the journalist was, in his words, “every bit as crazy as his book would make him seem.”


Bill Burrud’s Treasure Map

Although many Oak Island enthusiasts today are familiar with the mystifying saga of the Wilkins Map, very few are acquainted with its strange follow-up – a puzzling sequel which will be presented for the first time in this video.

In 1958, a former child actor and WWII veteran named Bill Burrud [BURR-rud] produced a TV series entitled Treasure. This series was essentially a collection of documentaries on buried loot, forgotten gold mines, and lost cities. One of the episodes, incidentally, is on the mystery of Oak Island.

Another episode of Treasure, entitled “Shipwreck of the Dry Tortugas [tor-TOO-guz]”, follows the hunt for a shipwreck located off deserted island located about 90 miles west of Key West, Florida, just beyond a cluster of islands called the Dry Tortugas. The episode opens with a shot of a large treasure map. The viewer may recognize this document as an augmented, coloured replica of the chart from Harold Wilkin’s book Captain Kidd and his Skeleton Island.

In the first few minutes of the program, we are informed that the map was brought to the show’s producer by one of their viewers, a Mr. David Buckner of Key West, Florida, and that it had been in Buckner’s family for generations. The map allegedly shows the location of a French merchant ship which had wrecked off the island in 1883, stranding its valuable cargo on a coral reef.

After introducing us to the map, the show follows the journey of actors Gene McCabe and Lee Hanson, who set out in search of the shipwreck. First, the pair travel to Key West, where they meet with a tanned, rugged-looking skin diver named Ed Soszynski . The treasure hunters show Soszynski their treasure map and tell him the story of the French shipwreck. The skin diver claims to know the island, locating it on his own nautical charts, and agrees to take the treasure hunters to it. With that, the three men climb aboard Soszynski’s boat and head west.

On their way to the shipwreck, the treasure hunters pay a visit to Fort Jefferson, a huge American fortress built in 1825 for the purpose of suppressing piracy in the Caribbean. There, Soszynski tells the treasure hunters that, according to legend, the sole survivor of the French shipwreck had washed ashore at Fort Jefferson clinging to a piece of wreckage. The survivor informed the fort’s garrison that he and his crew were beset by a ferocious gale. Worse, they had been led aground a coral reef by mysterious signal lights which suddenly appeared at the height of the storm. No one knew where the lights came from.

On the advice of Fort Jefferson’s caretaker, the treasure hunters then proceed to Bleaker’s Island, named for a hermit named Vincent Bleaker who lived there in the late 1800s. According to the caretaker, rumour had it that Bleaker would stand in his beach shack during storms and hoist a lantern in the hope that some unfortunate ship would run into the coral reef that fronted his island, leaving its cargo for the taking. Perhaps, the narrator suggests, Bleaker had a hand in the demise of the French ship.

After exploring the deserted island, the trio head towards their final destination. True to his word, Soszynski leads the treasure hunters to a sunken ship entombed in coral. Donning scuba gear, the treasure hunters explore the ship and recover a few interesting artifacts, including a cannonball, an old hatch cover, a swivel gun, a piece of ivory, and some sterling silver tableware. Pleased with their discoveries, the treasure hunters head for Key West as the sun begins to set.

The shipwreck that Gene McCabe, Lee Hanson, and Ed Soszynski explored in this episode of Bill Burrud’s Treasure is undoubtedly real. The legitimacy of the treasure map which ostensibly prompted their treasure hunt, however, is another question entirely. Upon close inspection, the map appears to be artificially weathered, apparently for the purpose of making it older. The map, it seems, is probably a hoax intended for dramatic effect.

Somewhat more puzzling is the fact that the map appears to conform in shape with some unnamed island allegedly located off the Dry Tortugas, as evidenced by the nautical chart produced by Soszynski prior to the treasure hunt. Although the resemblance is probably coincidental, it adds yet another twist to the convoluted tale of the Wilkins Map and the most bizarre chapter in the history of the Oak Island treasure hunt.

Thanks for watching! If you enjoyed this video and would like to help support this channel, check out the Oak Island Encyclopedia, the unauthorized guide to The Curse of Oak Island, which you can find by clicking the link in the description.



  • The Oak Island Mystery (1967), by R.V. Harris
  • The Secret Treasure of Oak Island (2004), by D’Arcy O’Connor
  • Captain Kidd and His Skeleton Island (1935), by Harold T. Wilkins
  • “Mystery of the Pirate’s Chart” in the December 1950 issue of FATE; courtesy of American Fortean researcher Mr. Gary S. Mangiacopra
  • “Shipwreck of the Dry Tortuga” (1958), in Treasure, by Bill Burrud Productions; courtesy of Mr. Gary S. Mangiacopra
  • “On the Treasure Trail of the Wicked Old Pirates,” by Harold T. Wilkins in the February 18, 1940 issue of the San Francisco Examiner; courtesy of Mr. Gary S. Mangiacopra
  • Maps, Mystery, and Interpretation: 1,2,&3 (2013), by G.J. Bath
  • Treasure and Intrigue: The Legacy of Captain Kidd (2002), by Graham Harris
  • The Pirate Hunter: The True Story of Captain Kidd (2002), by Richard Zacks

Lost on the Plains

Back to The Riders of the Plains.

The following is an excerpt from The Riders of the Plains: A Reminiscence of the Early and Exciting Days in the North West(1905), by Cecil Edward Denny. This work is in the public domain.

Continued from Chapter VI: On the March.

Chapter VII

Lost on the Plains

AFTER MEETING THIS party bands of buffalo were often seen, but in small numbers and a long distance off, so we had no chance to kill any for several days after. Some time pre our wood had given out. We had used dry buffalo dung as fuel. This makes a capital fire, but requires considerable quantities to keep it going. We used this for all our cooking during the remainder of the trip, except when we happened to camp near wood, which was seldom. Sundays were not exactly our day of rest, as after church parade in the morning all hands turned to washing clothes, etc., which could not be done on any other day of the week. Most of the water we found was not fit to drink unless boiled, some being salt. However it was the best to be procured, and we had to put up with it. The salt water did the horses much injury and in fact killed many of them.

Aug. 25 we came in sight of the Cypress mountains and camped at a creek of clear cold water with very good feed near it. Some of this hay we cut and carried with us. We camped for several days at the north end of the Cypress hills with plenty of wood and water. Dome deer and antelope were killed. This was the first fresh meat for a long time, and there was not enough of it. We were joined here by Colonel Macleod who had gone back with the best teams for more oats. The horses picked up wonderfully as long as these oats lasted but they were getting into terrible condition. The work of the men was nearly doubled as they had to drive and look after so many exhausted horses. The men had worked splendidly through great and unaccustomed hardships, and well deserved the thanks for their behavior which were issued in general orders on the evening of Aug. 30. In spite of the unusual amount of extra work, with scanty fare very little grumbling was indulged in.

The Cypress hill country was fairly wooded, there being much underbrush loaded with berries of all kinds. It used to be a great country for grizzly bear but although we saw plenty of tracks we did not come across any of the beasts. We crossed the Cypress hills in 1874 not far from what is now the town of Maple Creek, on the Canadian Pacific railroad, but all vestige of game has disappeared years ago. The weather while here was cold, wet and very disagreeable, and more dead horse were left behind.

We had now been out nearly three months and were nearly 700 miles from Dufferin, but we had far to travel yet, and our stock were daily diminishing. What were left were very weak. Our provisions were also getting short, and but for the buffalo we should have been in a bad way. We killed our first buffalo Sept. 1 and a great hunt it was. Nearly every one joined in it. Guns were going off in every direction, and the officers were in the greatest state of excitement. One officer distinguished himself by his headlong chase after an old bull with an unloaded revolver. He had forgotten to load it in the excitement. Away he went alongside the bull, pounding away at it with his revolver slung at the end of a strap, until some one came to his assistance and brought down the game.

We killed four on this first hunt; the robes were carefully taken off and preserved and the meat made a welcome addition to the different messes. From this time on we had no dearth of fresh meat. The further west we went the more plentiful became the buffalo. We came to places where, as far as the eye could reach, thousands and tens of thousands were in sight, the country being fairly black with them. They had eaten the grass very short making food scarce, and all the lakes were polluted by them. These immense bands seemed to be travelling north, but there seemed to be no end of them.

The killing was easy, and many times we killed them from the saddle without going out of the line of march. The robes were not in good condition at this time. It is only in the winter and spring that they are in their prime. The animals shed their coats during the summer season, making the robes useless. It was at this time I shot my first buffalo and cut off the best pieces myself.

One day I was out alone, and my horse got down in a quicksand hole up to his neck, only his head and saddle being in sight. I had to walk several miles in a burning sun to get help to extricate him. That was done by hauling him out bodily with ropes hitched to a team, and he was none the worse for it, serving me for many years afterwards on many a hard ride. By this time our supply of oats was getting very short, the horses being put down to four pounds per head. The country after we left the Cypress hills was hilly, making hard pulling especially with the guns. Twelve horses were often hitched to them, with as many men as could lay hold, to help them up the hills.

September 6 we camped on the South Saskatchewan river, our guide telling us that the Bow river entered into it only 12 miles above where we first struck it. We very shortly found that he knew nothing whatever about the locality, going only on hearsay, never having been in that section before. We travelled from here up the river, but keeping out from it a considerable distance to avoid the deep coulees that sometimes ran back several miles from the river. We found the feed very light and the water scarce. We had a slight snowstorm on Sept. 9, which killed many horses. As we were travelling through sand hills there was little or no feed. We camped at the mouth of the Bow river which runs into the South Saskatchewan at this point. Our guides were completely at a loss, not knowing up which river Fort Whoopup lay, and really not being sure which of the two rivers was the Bow and which the Belly. The South Saskatchewan receives the name of the Belly river after the junction of the Bow. Whoopup in reality lies about 120 miles up the Belly river from the point where we were then camped, at the mouth of the Belly and St. Mary’s rivers. But we were utterly ignorant of this fact. Had we known, it would have saved us going round some 200 miles or more. It was decided that I should proceed up the Bow river on the south side, taking with me three halfbreeds, with only our ponies and sufficient rations to last us three days. We were to go up the river as far as we could to see if any signs of settlement or any white men could be met with. Another officer, Captain Welsh, was to proceed up the Belly river for the same purpose.

One troop was to be detached here under command of Major Walsh to proceed north to Edmonton, but this order was afterwards cancelled, and a good thing it was, as he could never, with the horses in such condition and the season so late, have reached that point. It lies nearly 200 miles north, with a swampy country to go through.

I started up the Bow river Sept. 12 with the three halfbreeds. We had a tough little halfbreed pony apiece. We had our three days’ rations and one blanket each. We made 40 miles that day and saw nothing but thousands of buffalo. We were in a heavy storm of sleet during the night, and had no sleep as the buffalo stampeded our horses, and after we recovered them we had to watch them until morning.

We made a start at daylight, without breakfast. We killed a buffalo during the morning and cut off the best pieces, which we cooked for breakfast on striking a small creek with timber, some distance ahead. On that day about noon while riding along the river, we saw two Indians on foot coming from the prairie, and making for a deep gully running out from the river. We tried to cut them off to get into communication with them, but they got down into the gully before we could get near them. We rode towards the gully and when within about 100 yards of it, up sprang about 50 Indians, all armed, and pointing their rifles at us. We kept our rifles ready and kept on the move round, making signs to them. There was no fear of them being able to catch us, as they were on foot and there were no horses in sight. The halfbreeds spoke to them, but could not understand what they said. They lay down behind the bank, with just their heads and the muzzles of their guns in sight. They did not fire, and showed no signs of hostility. One man stood up and went through a pantomime of signs which the halfbreeds could not understand. The latter were thoroughly scared, and insisted on riding off, as they said they were Sioux Indians, and would kill us if they got a chance. The Indians were uncertain what to do, not knowing but that another party might be behind us. One Indian waved a scalp at us. They were evidently a war party on some expedition. I much wished to get near and into communication with them, but on the halfbreeds riding off and leaving me alone, there was nothing for it but to follow. It took me hard riding to catch up with them, as they were on the back track, making for camp. It took me a long time to persuade them to turn back and resume the journey up the river, which we eventually did, making a wide detour around the gully in which the Indians lay. We found out afterwards that this was a party of Assiniboia Indians out on foot on the war path. They had been up the Bow river over 100 miles from the point where we met them, and had attacked a party of white men who were camped on the river with two or three wagon loads of goods, trading with the Blackfeet. They attacked this party at night, stole all their horses, killed one man, captured and burned the wagons and destroyed what goods they could not take with them.

A. La Chapelle, one of this party, is still in business in this country. It was a good thing indeed for us that they were undecided what to do. They no doubt were at a loss to know what kind of a party we were. My red coat must have puzzled them considerably. After this we travelled at night, as we thought the Indians might follow us, which indeed they did. On our return we found their tracks, they having followed us a considerable distance. We travelled about 40 miles farther up the river, having gone altogether about 90 miles from camp. No sign of any trail or habitation was seen, and we might have gone 100 miles further before we should have met with any. This of course we found out afterwards.

There was no timber on the river as far as we went, and the country was broken and hilly. We saw a fine sight here- some thousands of buffalo swimming across the Bow river, which is at this point a considerable stream and very swift. Our rations had given out and we killed buffalo for food. We returned to camp the third day, on our return journey travelling mostly at night and resting part of the day. We had made a hard and long ride of at least 60 miles a day. The Indian ponies we rode were wonderfully tough and enduring. The last night thousands of buffalo passed us on a stampede going south; their tread fairly shook the ground, and a lucky thing it was for us that we were not in their road. On our arrival in camp we found that Welsh had returned from his trip up Belly river, without seeing any signs of white men or settlement. Had he gone 50 miles further up, or 100, he would have struck camps of traders. This, of course, we did not know at that time.

It was now decided to travel south to the Sweet Grass hills, or Three Buttes, which we could see in the distance, about 80 miles off. We would remain in camp there, whole the commissioner and assistance commissioner proceeded south to Ft. Benton, Montana, about 100 miles from the Sweet Grass, to communicate with Ottawa and to procure provisions and information. We therefore left Belly river Sept. 15, arriving on Milk River, just north of the West Butte, Sept. 18, after a most dismal journey, many horses being scattered all along the trail, unable to travel for want of food. We had one or two snow storms on the road and the weather was cold. On Milk river we had good feed and water. We crossed this stream and camped at the foot of West Butte, near the site of an old boundary survey camp. The boundary line was only half a mile south of us. There was a great scramble for some provisions left in this camp, and one mess was the lucky possessor of a gallon of molasses, a spoonful of which you could not purchase for a fortune, and they were looked upon with envious eyes.

We found some very good coal on Milk river, and signs of iron were very abundant. No doubt some day they will be developed as there is lots of coal there for smelting purposes. At this place it was decided that D and E troops, with Colonel French, should return east. They wintered near Fort Pelly, on the North Swan river, and Swan River barracks was the name given to the place. They were to pick up the wagons and horses left on the road, on their return. We said goodbye to them, and they started on their return journey Sept. 21. Colonel French, after leaving Benton, caught them some distance to the eastward.

The remaining three troops, C, B and F, were to remain at the Sweet Grass hills until the return of Colonel Macleod, who would take command of that force, and we should then proceed northwest to do the work we originally came for. Colonel French and Colonel Macleod proceeded to Ft. Benton Sept. 22, leaving us in camp with good feed and water, with Captain Winder in command.

On the March (NWMP)

Back to The Riders of the Plains.

The following is an excerpt from The Riders of the Plains: A Reminiscence of the Early and Exciting Days in the North West(1905), by Cecil Edward Denny. This work is in the public domain.

Continued from Chapter V: Off for the West.

Chapter VI

On the March

JULY 9 WE resumed our march, but did not start until well into the afternoon. During the night, in a heavy storm, about 50 head of cattle strayed off and 20 head of horses stampeded. These were, however, recovered the next morning, and it was not until late at night that the carts all got in, the half breeds being in the sulks. We had to send three wagons back to Dufferin, as we had not horses enough to draw them. They contained luxuries which the commissioner thought could be spared. One of our officers let us here and returned east and did not rejoin the force. We travelled for some distance along the Pembina river, and were all sorry to leave. We did not expect too much water on the plains, and the weather being hot, a bath now and then after a hard day’s march was delightful. We were kept on the lookout for several days by reports coming in of depredations committed by Sioux Indians across the line, not far from us. Mounted sentries were placed at night over the horses. Good water was scarce after the first few days, and both men and horses suffered considerably for want of it. Our rations also, without tea, were not of the most dainty kind. Hardly a night passed without a heavy thunder storm. This country seemed to be the home of those kinds of storms, which we experienced almost every day.

We travelled for a considerable distance along the boundary survey road, which made the marching comparatively easy. At Pembina mountain, which is a beautiful spot, we remained a short time. Here we met with the first locusts, the air being literally alive with them. A tremendous hail storm struck us here, with hail stones as large as pigeon eggs, causing another stampede of the horses. They were all recovered.

On July 13 we camped at Calf mountain. Here hay was cut for the horses with the mowing machine we had with us, it not being deemed safe to turn the horses out to herd. Pembina mountain was a hard pull to cross, pretty well tiring out the horses. What made matters worse, we had to camp that night without water. The locusts were as thick as ever, and the mosquitoes nearly ate us up. Our travelling had been so far at the rate of about 20 miles a day, which was quite enough, as the horses suffered considerably.

The only game seen had been a few antelope, none of which we could get near. We saw the first buffalo skulls west of Pembina mountain, but many hundred miles would have to be travelled before we came across the living animals. At Pembina mountain a party of halfbreeds selected by the governor of Manitoba joined us. They brought presents for Indian chiefs and were supposed to assist the force as interpreters and guides, but they knew little or nothing of the country after getting beyond the Cypress hills. The only Indian language they could speak was Cree, which was of no use to us. We did not go near the Cree country, which lies along the North Saskatchewan river, several hundred miles to the north. We met a party of the boundary survey going east for supplies. They reported having fired at some Indians who were trying to run off with their horses. From this point our rations were cut down. It was seen by our slow progress that the journey would be longer than anticipated, and unless we were very careful our supplies would give out before we got through. July 17 the horses began to give out and the wagons were strewn all along the road. They did not all arrive in camp until ten o’clock at night. We had no water frequently for man or beast, making it much harder on all of us. No doubt so many dry camps were due to the ignorance of the guides, on whom we had to place all dependence, knowing nothing about the geography of the country ourselves. July 18 I was on rear guard, and a day I had of it! Some 20 sick horses, and 15 or 20 horse and ox teams had to be gotten along. I had to camp out that night without shelter or food, being unable to bring them into camp, and in a pouring rain, which came pretty hard on all of us.

I caught up with the main body the next day, when we made the Souris river, at which place we had a welcome rest of several days. This made us forget the last few days of wet and hunger which we had experienced in making the 200 miles from Dufferin to that point. The two days we remained at this point did us all much good. We had a good rest and clean up, and overhauled the baggage, which had been well soaked. It is a beautiful spot and we should have liked to have remained much longer. At that time there were no settlements on the Souris river, but it is today thickly populated with thriving towns and farms. It is splendid wheat growing country. We had to leave some sick horses behind at that point, they being unable to keep up.

At the second crossing of the Souris we met some more of the boundary survey party returning, having completed their work. The feed here was scant. Our horses suffered considerably, and we had to abandon some more of them. We passed the hill of the murdered scout on July 23. The story goes that an Indian scout had been murdered by one of his tribe. The stone with which it was done is said to be still on the top of the hill. We reached Roche Percee July 24. The horses being nearly played out from fatigue and want of food and water, many of them laying down by the roadside, and the rest were hardly able to drag along. This looked ominous for our success, as our journey had only begun. Many hundred miles had still to be travelled, and the stock was already in bad condition. The eastern horses failed rapidly on prairie grass. Rations had been cut down, being barely sufficient to keep us going with the hard work we had to do. At Roche Percee we made a long halt, and at this point a troop, under command of Lieutenant Colonel Jarvis, left us, going north via Ft. Ellis, Ft. Pitt and Carleton to Edmonton, on the North Saskatchewan river. That was the point at which they were to be stationed. Fifty men went with him and over half of our wagons were sent by him to Ft. Ellis. This troop had a long and hard trip before they reached Ft. Edmonton. They remained that winter in the Hudson’s Bay company’s fort at that place. We did not hear from them again that year, and no communication was had with them until the following spring. They were, however, within easier reach of communication with the east, as there was regular mail communication between Edmonton and Winnipeg, via Ft. Pitt and Carleton, run by the Hudson’s Bay company. They took with them most of our sick horses, thereby relieving us of that encumbrance.

While resting at Roche Percee we had time to get our transport into pretty good shape. We found an abundance of coal, which was used in our portable forges. Roche Percee is a beautiful spot, with plenty of good feed and water. We also laid in a considerable supply of wood, which we did not expect to get for a long time. A week’s rations were cooked in advance, so by July 30 we were ready to start west again, with a diminished force of both men, horses and wagons. We made 26 miles July 31 and still found good feed and water. The weather had turned cold and the horses did fairly well. We were making pretty long day’s journeys, being up at daybreak. The camp was struck and ready to move by five o’clock. The guard duty was heavy. One officer, a picket, and a camp guard of some 15 men were detailed every night, and the officer on duty the whole night generally had to take either the advance or rear guard the next day. We therefore found we had enough to do, especially as when on rear guard we had to bring up the stragglers and teams that were exhausted, often not arriving in camp for many hours after the camp had been pitched and settled down.

We had so far seen no game except a few antelope, but birds were abundant. We killed large numbers of ducks of all kinds. The country through which we were passing was full of lakes, and this kind of game was very plentiful. Several of the men got lost while duck hunting, and in one instance, although rockets were fired at night to guide them to camp, were not found until the following day. They had quite enough. Aug. 3 we had a bad night, tents being blown down by a tornado. We had to stand by the horses until morning.

We had lived on bacon so far, and on August 4 we went into camp and our assistant commissioner, Lieutenant-Colonel Macleod, with several wagons, left us to go south some 40 miles to a small halfbreed and trading settlement named Wood mountain, to procure pemmican and if possible more forage for the horses. He was to meet us some days’ journey farther west. At this point we left the boundary survey road which we had followed, and struck out across the open prairie, travelling principally by compass. On August 6 we crossed a high wooded country, laying in a stock of wood. Here we saw our first prairie fire, the country for miles round being ablaze. The feed was becoming very scare and the horses were giving out and dying daily. We had lost over 10 head since leaving Dufferin, and our line of march was sometimes stretched over many miles. We had so far come across no Indians, although we were coming to the country in which they might be looked for. The guns were giving us a good deal of trouble, as at this point they had to be left miles behind, the horses being unable to draw them up the hill. More teams had to be sent back to bring them up. The first death occurred here, a man of E troop dying from fever brought on by wet and exposure.

Aug. 8 we sighted the first buffalo in the distance, but did not get near them. On that day I had charge of the rear guard. Many teams and oxen had given out. I remember what a beautiful view there was from the top of a high hill to which I had ridden. The Old Wives lakes were in the distance, and as far as the eye could reach was a boundless prairie, partly burnt. Our party was moving along in the distance, and a few buffalo could be seen near the lakes. I had to send forward for rations, as I was two days in bringing in the party. A miserable looking lot they were. We remained several days at the Old Wives lakes. The water is slightly salt, and abounds with ducks, geese, and pelicans. We killed large numbers, which made a welcome addition to our mess. Lieutenant Colonel Macleod arrived while we were here, and brought a good supply of dried buffalo meat and pemmican with him. He left again at once for the same place for a further supply of oats, which we could not do without, as the horses were dying every day. At that rate we should soon have none left to take us through. Aug. 12 we met the first Indian camp on the plains. They were a party of Sioux returning from hunting buffalo further west. They were a very dirty looking lot, and did not give us a high opinion of western Indians.

We were over 500 miles from Dufferin, and pretty well out on the plains. We had met no white men since leaving the Souris river, and probably would not meet any for a long time to come. The grass was getting very short and dried out and we had to send a day ahead to find pasturage and water, a party being sent back to guide us to it. Aug. 15 a white man came in alone, saying he was a scout and had come up from Ft. Benton, Montana. He undertook to guide us to our destination, and was engaged as guide, but he afterwards proved to be as big a fraud as the rest of them. He told us many startling stories of the Blackfeet in the west being on the warpath, and the lawlessness and strength of the whisky traders at Fort Whoopup and other places.

Colonel Macleod came in on August 15, bringing a good supply of oats, which arrived just in time to save a general break-up of all our horses, which would have left us, as they in the west, afoot. Colonel Herchmer, of the boundary survey, came in with him t pay us a visit. Their camp was not more than 40 miles to the south of us. Aug. 19 we struck a good camp for feed and water, where we left a detachment of men in charge of a sergeant, with all our sick and played out horses. We also left a considerable supply of provisions, as it was intended that two troops would not remain in the west over winter, but return after the work of putting down the whisky traders was done. They could pick up these men and horses on their return.

Our rations were now pretty short, our allowance of bread bing not much over half a pound a day. It was looked upon as worth its weight in gold. Sugar we had been cut off from for some time. Many a fight occurred over a piece of bread, as each in the mess had his slice issued and the distribution was watched with jealous eyes. Many a good laugh we have had since over the rows we used to start over the rations, but it was a serious matter with us then.

Aug. 21. We met the first party of halfbreed hunters, who had been out from Winnipeg after buffalo and were well loaded with pemmican and buffalo robes. A Catholic priest was with them. They had their families, and had been as far west as the Cypress hills. They had left Winnipeg in the early spring and had been out all summer. Their transport was mostly carts, drawn by small Indian ponies. They reported no feed between us and the Cypress hills, the country being all eaten off by buffalo.

These parties of halfbreeds started in those days every spring to go west to hunt the buffalo. They killed enormous numbers, as it took several animals to make one sack of pemmican, weighting about 150 pounds. Only the choicest parts were used. The rest was left lying on the prairie. A hundred or more animals would be killed in one hunt by a small party of hunters and the waste was enormous. They lived a happy life, camping out all summer, with plenty of game, and returning in the fall well loaded with pemmican and robes, from the sale of which they were provided for the winter and had enough over to give them a good start again in the spring. Their guns were primitive, being nearly altogether flint-lock muskets purchased from the Hudson’s Bay company, repeating and breach-loading guns being rarely seen among them. They were good shots and often came into collision with the Blackfeet and other Indians, who used to camp around the Cypress hill country to hunt. Many of them were killed, but they generally had the best of it, and they were active in running off bands of Indian horses in retaliation for thefts committed by the Indians.

Continued in Lost on the Plains.

Continue Reading

Off for the West (NWMP)

Back to The Riders of the Plains.

The following is an excerpt from The Riders of the Plains: A Reminiscence of the Early and Exciting Days in the North West(1905), by Cecil Edward Denny. This work is in the public domain.

Continued from Chapter IV: Organization of the Force.

Chapter V

Off for the West

WE LEFT TORONTO by two special trains for St. Paul, June 6, 1874. We carried 300 men, 350 horses, baggage, camp equipage, and transport. Our quarters during the journey were rather cramped, particularly as regards sleeping. We had to sleep on the train, travelling both day and night. The horses were taken off three times a day for food and water, which delayed us considerably. On these stops we took meals at the different stations, arrangements having been made beforehand, so that everything was ready on our arrival. Several occasions our number taxed the accommodation at many of the stations. However, we did fairly well and no pains were spared to give us the best they had.

We arrived in Chicago June 7, and put up at the stock yards, unloading our horses and keeping them in pens during the night. A strong picket of two officers and 30 men was established over the stock. We had a heavy thunder storm that night which made it very unpleasant on duty. The men were thoroughly soaked and tired out by morning. It was difficult to procure provisions for so many men, the stock yards being some distance from the city, and hotels at that time being few in that vicinity.

The men slept in the cars sand were glad enough to get away on the evening of June 8. We had no time to see the town, but were kept busy nearly all day reloading the horses, and getting all settled for another start. Everything so far had gone well, no accident having happened since we left Toronto. Our run to St. Paul was made by the noon of June 10. It was a continuous rain from our arrival at St. Paul until we left. Few of us owned such a thing as a waterproof, our uniforms being packed away, the men travelling in plain clothes. We had to march all the horses from the station into the town, a considerable distance. We took up all the empty stables to be found in St. Paul, which was at that time a small place. We had rather more time to stretch ourselves there than we had in Chicago, as the officers put up at a good hotel, the Metropolitan, and the men at the Merchants. The dealers in plain clothing made a good thing out of it, as we bought up all the waterproof and other overcoats in town. This break in the journey was appreciated by all after being so long cramped up in uncomfortable railway carriages.

        We left St. Paul for Moorhead, about 400 miles distance, in Dakota, June 11, in a pouring rain, and a dismal outlook It was. We arrived at Fargo, the station near Moorhead, in the afternoon of June 12, in very pleasant weather. This place then consisted of the station, a few small stores, and an hotel. It is now a thriving town of several thousand inhabitants. This point was the end of our railway journey, and the beginning of our march across the plains to Fort Dufferin, in Manitoba.

We unloaded everything and went into camp, pitching our tents for the first time. All of June 13 and 14 was taken up unloading, putting together the wagons, twenty in all, and loading them with goods. They were distributed among the three troops, D troop being the strongest in horses, getting 30, and E and F 20 each. The job was a long one, as the quantity of the baggage and other freight making a tight squeeze in the 70 wagons. Much of the stuff we had brought would have to be left behind at Dufferin, and we should have a hundred or more carts at that place to lighten the balance. We worked at this until midnight. I remember I had the guard of some 20 men in charge that night. This was the first real duty on the plains.

We finished loading June 14, and numbered the horses that day. We lost four which got away from the picket and were never recovered. D and E troops pulled out that day and camped on the prairie some five miles away. My troop, F, remained until evening to finish the work that was left. We then struck camp and joined the remainder that night, being ready to start across the plains the next morning for Fort Dufferin, 180 miles from Moorhead, and 60 miles from Winnipeg.

On June 15 we started for Fort Dufferin, 180 miles distant, with horses in prime condition. The wagons were too heavily loaded. We travelled in troops, D in advance with an advance guard, and F in the rear, supplying the rear guard. We made 36 miles the first day and camped on the bank of the Red river. This first day’s trip was much too far. In fact, was the seeds of disease, and the cause of so many of our horses dying and giving out on the after journey, is to be attributed to the long marches we made between Moorhead and Dufferin. We enjoyed a refreshing bath in the Red river. The day, though fine, had been very hot, and the mosquitoes were thick. On June 16 we again made a long journey of 34 miles, and both men and horses were pretty well played out, not being used to the hard travelling. One of our horses in F died during the day from fatigue. The following day we made 30 miles. The day was hot and we were beginning to get a little hardened. Our provisions were scanty, as our supper that night consisted of hard biscuits and tea. This was not very satisfying fare after a hard day’s march. We made 35 miles the following day and another horse died. We saw the first Indian camp, of Sioux, which of course was quite a curiosity to us.

June 19 we made Pembina, an American military post on the frontier between Dakota and Manitoba. That place has since become a thriving town. The American officers were very hospitable.

We crossed over into Manitoba and reached Fort Dufferin a very small settlement, on the afternoon of June 19. Here we met B and C troops that had arrived the day before from Winnipeg, where they had been stationed since the previous year. We very very glad to turn in after corralling the horses and pitching our tents. We lost three horses during the day, and the rest were pretty well done up. The next few days were taken up by making acquaintance with the officers of the two Winnipeg troops, unloading and reloading the wagons for our 1,000 miles journey across the plains, dividing the horses and wagons between the six troops, transferring men, branding horses, and getting generally ready for our march.

On the night of June 21 one of the most terrible thunderstorms I have ever experienced, struck our camp, blowing down all the tents. What was worse, at the height of the storm, when the camp was in confusion, and the darkness so great that you could not see your hand before you, 200 of our horses that were picketed in a board corral near the camp, stampeded right through the camp. They upset men and anything that came in their way. Several men were severely injured, and we were in complete confusion. Many men started after the herd, but the darkness was so great that they soon returned without finding a trace of them. We had to pass the night in the open, in a drenching rain, soaked through and through and utterly miserable. This seemed rather a gloomy beginning, but when the next day opened, warm and bright, we dried our clothes, repitched the camp and were soon cheerful again. Sixty men were sent after the horses, and it was some days before the majority of them were recovered. Some 25 were never seen again, a few were found dead, and those brought in were much pulled down. We had several more bad storms while in Dufferin, but kept our horses hobbled and well guarded, and had no more stampedes.

Colonel French proceeded to Winnipeg and purchased more horses, and a week or more was taken up in getting everything together, numbering and dividing horses, and getting all six troops into shape.

The troops were numbered from A to F and composed of an inspector and two sub-inspectors. This rank has since been changed, an inspector now being superintendent, and a sub-inspectors, an inspector. Fifty men was the strength of each troop, the horses and transport being equally divided. The two nine-pound guns were in charge of D troop an inspector, Captain Jackson, being in command of the gun detachment.

The horses had to be shod and much other work done before we could get off. Several parades were held and much drilling done. Whisky was plentiful and some of our worst characters were discharged from the force while here for drunkenness and other offences. The weather was unsettled during our stay, frequent storms making it hard on the men to get through the work. There was, in consequence, considerable grumbling.

While here the men and officers received their first pay, including a fair allowance for travelling expenses, since we left Toronto. This was the last pay any of us received for nearly a year. On our arrival in the west it was a time before we had matters arranged and direct communication was opened with the authorities in Ottawa. Some six or seven men deserted while we remained here, which rid us no doubt of some useless characters.

Our allowance of baggage over and above the kit was 50 pounds to each officer and 10 pounds per man. One hundred and twenty-five ox carts were engaged, with some 30 halfbreeds to drive them. By July 6 we had all in order to start, when news was received that a large band of Sioux Indians had attacked and murdered a large number of settlers at St. Joe, a small town near the line in Dakota. The officer commanding the American troops in that vicinity sent word to Colonel French, asking his cooperation to cut off these Indians, should they cross the line. Five of our troops, consisting of 250 men, started out, armed and mounted, for the point where it was supposed the Indians might cross. They returned the next day without seeing any signs of the Indians. This put us back a couple of days, and our last night brought us another tremendous thunder storm, but it did no damage. We, however, started on our westward journey on July 8, 1874, with 300 men and officers, 340 odd horses, 70 wagons, and 125 ox carts, driven by 25 half breeds. We were loaded with a six months’ supply of tea, sugar, flour, biscuit, and bacon, together with baggage, ammunition and forage. We left considerable baggage behind that we did not have transport for. Much of this was never seen again. We lost some 20 men altogether by desertion while at Dufferin, and about 20 horses, lost and dead, but the force was in good shape when we started, and in good spirits.

We made some 25 miles the first day, and camped on Murray river the first night. This was our real start for the west, which we had all been looking forward to since the first organization of the force.

Continued in On the March.

Organization of the Force (NWMP)

Back to The Riders of the Plains.

The following is an excerpt from The Riders of the Plains: A Reminiscence of the Early and Exciting Days in the North West (1905), by Cecil Edward Denny. This work is in the public domain.

Continued from Chapter III – Cypress Hills Massacre.


Chapter IV

Organization of the Force

IN THE YEAR 1873 the Canadian government determined to organize a force of mounted men for service in Manitoba and the North West Territories. Three troops of this force, called the North West Mounted Police, were organized late in that year. The men were enlisted in Canada, and consisted as far as possible of strong young men, lumbermen and farmers being preferred.

The troops were supposed to be 50 strong, with the pay of the sub-constables at 90c per diem, rations and uniform being provided. The constables or sergeant’s pay was also good, being from $1 to $1.25 per day. Applications by men wishing to enlist came from all parts, as the pay was exceptionally high, and there was the very best material to pick from. In consequence the men enlisted were the best to be found in Canada, and would more than compare favorably with any corps. The officers, of which there were three to a troop, an inspector and two sub-inspectors were for the most part men who had for several years held commissions in different militia corps in Canada. A few were old countrymen with not much knowledge of military work.

The uniform of this force consisted of ordinary cavalry riding breeches with scarlet stripes, afterwards changed to yellow, the full dress being trousers of the same style; red tunics and white helmets, or forage caps, for full dress. A leather belt and ammunition and revolver pouches on the sides; cavalry boots and spurs; a Snider carbine, which, when mounted, was carried in a carbine bucket at the side of the saddle; white leather gauntlets, cavalry cloak and cape, completing a comfortable, serviceable and neat looking uniform.

It was the intention of the government to make this force 300 strong, consisting of six troops from A to F, of 50 men each, but as it was considered necessary to send some men at once to Manitoba on account of the expected halfbreed trouble, only two troops were organized in 1873. These were dispatched to Winnipeg, on the Red river, in the summer of that year.

No horses for these two troops were purchased in eastern Canada it being expected that the animals necessary could be got on arrival in Manitoba. It was not intended these two troops should be sent west in to the North West Territories until the complete organization of the force, the following year. As they went by the lakes to Winnipeg the horses and transport were not contracted for and forwarded until the spring of 1874.

The senior officer and in command of these troops was Lt.-Col. Jarvis, who formerly served in an English regiment, and for many years had been lieutenant colonel of militia in Canada. Lt.-Col. Macleod, the second in command, although a Scotchman, had resided for many years in Canada and had been on the Red River expedition under Sir Garnet Wolseley as brigade major and had received the cross of St. Michael and St. George for his services. This officer at the time of the organization of the force was in England, and was recalled by cable to take the position of inspector to the portion of the force about to proceed to Manitoba.

The commissioner, or head of the force, Lt.-Col. French by his rank in the militia of Canada, was an imperial officer of the Royal artillery, being loaned to Canada, as the term then was, to take command of the School of Gunnery at Kingston.

Lt.-Col. French had an active part in the organization of these two troops but did not accompany them to Winnipeg, although he went up shortly afterwards. Until his arrival the two troops were under command of Lt.-Col. Osborne Smith, then military commander of Manitoba, but not connected with the North West Mounted Police.

It will thus be seen that the first detachment sent to Manitoba was more particularly for service during the winter of 1873-74 in Manitoba with the ultimate view of increasing the force to the desired number of 300 and then march westward into the North West Territories in the following year.

The third officer in command of C. troop was Capt. W. Winder, also an officer of Canadian militia and he also formed one of the expedition of 1873. Besides these officers, who commanded the three troops, there were four sub-inspectors, the full complement of six not having been made up. These officers were Captains Brisboin, Thurtcliff, Crozier and Young, all being officers of the militia in Canada.

The journey made by these three troops was tedious and arduous, as they went by way of the lakes. Many portage or transfers of all baggage from one point to another had to be made, but the men behaved well and showed that they had the right stuff in them.

         On their arrival at Winnipeg, at that time a small town of a few thousand inhabitants, they took possession of the Stone fort, which was built by the Hudson’s Bay company many years previously. It had been occupied at different times by the Hudson’s Bay Company and by a portion of the troops that came up in the first expedition. The winter spent by the men and officers of these troops was a pleasant one. As with the exception of a few expeditions in the environs of Winnipeg, owing to false rumors of half breed depredation, nothing arose to justify the idea of trouble originally entertained by the government from that source. The time was well spent in drilling the men on foot and horseback and in firing practice. Much had to be done in the way of gaining all the information possible regarding the territory west of Manitoba and in devising the best mode of transport for that long march through an almost unknown country. Transports by carts had to be prepared, guides engaged and march preliminary work done.

The time was beguiled by entertainments of all kinds, from dog sleighing to learning the intricacies of the Red river jig with the dark eyed maidens of Manitoba. The officers of the provincial battalion stationed at Winnipeg under command of Lieutenant Colonel Smith showed the greatest courtesy toward those of the police. No doubt there must have been some envy on their part for the lucky fellows who would the next summer make the journey westward across those unknown plains lying between Manitoba and the Rocky mountains. Some disgust must have been felt at their bad luck at having to remain in such an uninteresting place as Winnipeg. In after years, however, many must have congratulated themselves that they had to remain, for on the rapid increase of the population of Winnipeg, and the advance in the value of real estate, many of those officers and men must have made tidy fortunes as there were but few who did not own land either in or near Winnipeg.

These two troops of North West Mounted Police were therefore the first portion of that force to enter Manitoba. They remained there until joined in the following spring by the men and horses that made up the full complement of 300, as originally intended by the Canadian government.

         It was difficult to find fit guides to the far west. Although most of the half breeds in Winnipeg had been every summer on the plains after buffalo, they never went west of the Cypress mountains, which lie about 400 miles west of Winnipeg, and the points to which the mounted police were intended to go, lay at least 200 miles west of that point. However some halfbreeds were engaged who pretended to know the country as far west as the Rocky mountains and a large number of Red river carts, drawn by oxen, were also engaged to carry extra supplies and baggage.

The boundary line between the United States and the North West Territories was being run on the 49th parallel of latitude, by a large survey party of both American and Canadian engineers, who, as they travelled west, left a plain and broad trail behind them. The instructions of the Canadian government were to the effect that the police should not take this trail, but travel a considerable distance to the north, through country without roads or trails of any sort, so that good guides were indispensable. The boundary surveyors in the spring of 1874, when the police started on their westward journey had nearly finished their survey. Long before our arrival in the west they had completed the line to the boundary between British Columbia and the North West Territories.

In the spring of 1874 the remainder of the force was organized in Canada, amounting to some 200 men. Supplies were purchased together with over 350 head of horses of a very good class, for team and saddle. These horses were picked, and large prices paid for them, an average of $125 each. A large number of wagons were also purchased. They were supposed to carry not over 3,000 pounds each. Tents and other camping materials of the best were procured and two nine-pounder rifled guns sent from England, with suitable ammunition, were taken along. These guns might have been left behind, as it turned out that their services were never required.

The headquarters of the new force was in Toronto, at the old fort, which had been used in previous years by whatever Imperial regiment was stationed at that place at the time. The barracks were good, with stables, parade ground and officers quarters.

Our time was occupied from the spring until June 6, on which day we left Toronto, in drilling the men, in both mounted and foot drill and firing practice, also in enlisting men. There were large numbers to pick from, of all nationalities and standing in society. Many young Englishmen of good family enlisted. The examination was of the strictest. Only those of the very best physique were taken, and a fair education was required. Our regimental sergeant major was an old Imperial officer, having held a captain’s commission in one of the Hussar regiments. There were also a considerable number of old army men among us, who had seen considerable service. The 200 men were of the best possible stamp for the work before them. The officers had for the most part belonged to the Canadian militia and were all enthusiastic over the journey before them into the almost unknown country.

The commissioner or commander of the force was Lieutenant Colonel French, of the Royal artillery. His brother also held a commission as inspector. He was an old Irish militia officer. Many an evening did we spend in our mess room, listening to what information the commissioner could give us as to the country we were going to and what work we should find cut out for us when we arrived there.

It was understood that very little personal baggage was to be taken along, as the transport was limited and it would take nearly all of it to convey provisions and forage. It is curious today to remember what a vague idea we really had of the journey before us, and of the country westward along the mountains. I doubt if any expedition of such importance ever before undertook a 700-mile journey across vast plains without competent guides, believing that at the end of it, they would have to subdue lawless bands of desperadoes, with such complete faith in themselves and such utter ignorance of what they were undertaking.

Our stay in Toronto was taken up with hard work. For not only were most of the men to be drilled, but many of the officers, and in the three months we were at it, much progress was made. When we left we were a fairly organized force.

The people all over Canada took the greatest interest in our organization and success of the expedition and many were the good wishes and kindnesses we received. The journey all through was watched by almost everyone in Canada and many in England, and the greatest anxiety was manifested as to our fate, when many months passed after our departure, without word of any kind being received from us.

The spring had been spent in organizing the force and it was necessary to make as early a start as possible. We had to meet near Winnipeg that portion of the force which had been the previous winter stationed at that point and a considerable delay was expected to complete the organization with them. We had to distribute to them their share of the horses and transport and fitting up those troops with their proper complement of men. As it was form that point the real start was to be made, much information would have to be secured as to the best route to take and guides to be engaged. We were to go by rail via St. Paul, Minn., and from there by rail to Fargo, N.D. From there we should put our transports together and journey overland by permission of the United States government to Ft. Dufferin, about 180 miles distant, in Manitoba.

After much delay the department officials had completed the purchase of the remaining supplies. Lieutenant Colonel Richardson, of the department of justice, under which the police force then was, being a civil one, although guided in military matters by the Queen’s regulations, arrived from Ottawa before our departure and had a last conference with the commissioner. He also conveyed the last instructions from the Dominion government. We were ready to load our transport horses and baggage on Friday, June 5, 1874, in two special trains that were to take us through without change via Chicago and St. Paul to Fargo, in Dakota. This was all finished after the hardest kind of work. Both men and officers had their hearts in the work and it was finished in good style and in a very short time considering the loading. The horses gave use the hardest work. It is no small job to load 350 horses, in find condition and unused to railroad travelling. Lieutenant Colonel Richardson was present and many were the useful hints he gave us.

We were from the start to the finish the objects of the greatest interest to the public, being surrounded from morning to night with crowds of people, ever ready to assist us. There was nothing they would not and did not do for us. However by the morning of June 6 we were ready to start and many were the adieus spoken and kind wishes given and presents forced upon the men. We left about mid-day, amid the blast of bands, explosions of torpedoes, and encouraging cheers.

Our journey I will leave to be described in another chapter.

Continued in Off for the West.

Cypress Hills Massacre- Excerpt from ‘Riders of the Plains’, 1905

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The following is an excerpt from The Riders of the Plains: A Reminiscence of the Early and Exciting Days in the North West (1905), by Cecil Edward Denny. Despite its name, this chapter actually has nothing to do with the Cypress Hills Massacre, which was described in the previous chapter. This work is in the public domain.

Continued from Chapter II – Ruin of the Red Man.

Chapter III

Cypress Hills Massacre

IN 1869, THE HUDSON Bay Company transferred their right in Prince Rupert’s Land to the Canadian government. At that time the province of Manitoba was principally inhabited by half breeds, nearly all Cree or Sauteaux. There were two parties of these, the Roman Catholic party and the Scotch and English element, who traded with the Hudson’s Bay Company. The former were dissatisfied and formed a provincial government of their own under the leadership of Louis Riel. It is a matter of history how the Red River rebellion began, and how it ended, and no doubt some blame must be attached to the Hudson’s Bay Company. In 1870 the expedition to Red River took place, and on the withdrawal of the troops, a militia corps was left in the town of Winnipeg, to look after ostensibly the half breed population, who were at this time far from settled.

These halfbreeds were in the habit during each summer of starting with long trains of Red River carts and their families for the plains to hunt the buffalo and make pemmican, which consisted of dried buffalo meat and fat, pounded together, and packed with hot grease in thin bags. This not only supplied them with food for the winter but was a valuable article of trade to the Hudson’s Bay Company, which yearly shipped thousands of sacks to their northern trading posts on the peace and the Mackenzie rivers.

These half breeds would generally go as far west as the Cypress mountains, and nearly always came into collision with the Indian tribes who congregated around that neighborhood and bloody fights ensued. After a while many of them branched out from Manitoba, and settled permanently in the North West Territories, mixing among the Indians, instilling evil in their minds. They confined themselves nearly altogether to the northern portion of the Territories, along the North Saskatchewan river, and as they were among the Crees, whose friends and relations they were, they made a strong element in the warfare carried on by the northern or wood Indians, against their brethren of the plains.

These men, as I have before stated were dissatisfied and unsettled, and a slight cause only was wanting to bring about an almost similar state of things to that existing at the same time of the expedition in 1870. In all probability it would not have confined itself alone to Manitoba, but would have extended into the North West Territories, as the half breeds no doubt depended on their friends among the northern Indians to join them. This, then, was another cause which demanded that some permanent force should be organized, and dispatched to Manitoba and he North West Territories. Before closing the chapter in reference to the share that the halfbreeds had in forcing the organization of the N.W.M.P., it would not be out of place to say something about their people, who at present are a large part of the community of the North West Territories, and are not by any means a peaceable or settled race.

There is probably no other part of the world outside of the North West Territories that can show a people with such a peculiar origin and with the same characteristics as the half breeds of these Territories. They led a nomadic life, bit withal were so bound together, and had such common interests and love for the country in which they were born. Although for many years large numbers of them went south along the Missouri river, to follow the buffalo, they all came back to the northern part of the Territories and along the North Saskatchewan river. From this country many of them originally came and they mingled again with their old friends and relations- the Crees. They sought their old camping places, around or in the vicinity of some of the old Hudson’s Bay Company posts, such as Carleton fort and Fort Edmonton.

Long previous to the time that the Hudson’s Bay Company and the American North West Fur Company consolidated, the Hudson’s Bay Company were in the habit of bringing out men to work at their different forts in Prince Rupert’s land. They came from Scotland, the Orkney and Shetland islands and in some instances from England end Ireland. It was found that the men from the north of Scotland and the Orkney and Shetland islands could be engaged at lower wages and for a longer time, and were also more tractable than any other men they could get. In reality they were more easily deceived than the same class of Irish or English.

These men would be engaged by the Hudson’s Bay Company’s agents in Edinburgh or other parts of Scotland, and by promises of grants of land in Prince Rupert’s land or Manitoba, after a certain number of years’ service in the company, would sign agreements binding them to this company for a term of years, generally not less than 10. They were to get their food and a very small salary, a few pounds per annum, generally from £16 to £20. These men were then sent out in the Hudson’s Bay Company’s sailing vessels to York factory, a point of supply, situated on Hudson’s bay. The voyage would last sometimes for three months and these unfortunate men would have most of the romance knocked out of them before they reached York factory. From this point they were sent either over land or up the many rivers emptying into Hudson’s bay, hauling by hand the heavily lo9aded boats belonging to the company for hundreds of miles into the interior. Their destination was generally some of the company’s forts along the North Saskatchewan, from which forts they were often sent to the far northern posts along the Mackenzie or Peace rivers.

These men after they got out here, found that they had been badly fooled. As there was no possible way for them to get back home, they had to make the best of the bargain. Although they had all the food that they could eat, of its kind, which was principally dried meat and pemmican, they were, to all intents and purposes, the slaves of the Hudson’s Bay Company. The factors did not hesitate to put a deserter in irons and try him summarily before the officers, who held almost despotic sway over the whole of Prince Rupert’s land.

These men were nearly all unmarried, and it was the aim of the Hudson’s Bay Company to keep them in the country and in their employ, and they encouraged them to contract marriages with the Indians among whom they dwelt. In fact many of the officers of the company contracted these marriage. That consisted in either buying or taken an Indian woman. Even today it will be found that many of the chief officers or traders of the Hudson’s Bay Company, either are halfbreeds or have more or less Indian blood in their veins.

By the contraction of these marriages the result of course was that around the different Hudson’s Bay company’s posts, nearly all of their employees had families more or less numerous. As the boys or girls grew up and intermarried among themselves, the foundation was laid of the present half breed population.

         These half breeds were even more the slaves of the company than their forefathers. Those not working for the Hudson’s Bay, or who had left them, went by the name of freemen. The large majority of half breeds are either Cree or Seauteaux. This is easily accounted for by the fact that it was among those Indians, along the North Saskatchewan river that the company had their forts and did their trading. They never to any great extent, extended their trading posts among the plain Indians to the south. These Indians did the principal part of their trade with the American North West Fur Company along the Missouri river. It is therefore seldom that a Blackfoot or Piegan half breed is seen. When found, they generally come from the south.

The half breeds at the present time are numerous, well armed, active and of good physique, never having lead any other life than that of hunting and trapping. They are well supplied with horses and might make formidable foes, but for the established fact that there is little or no backbone or stamina in a mongrel of any race.

The Hudson’s Bay Company after surrendering their right to “Prince Rupert’s land,” were anxious to see some government force in the country south of the Saskatchewan to suppress the trade in liquor carried on by the American traders from Montana. Of course this was to their interest, as they had abandoned the liquor trade and if it was carried on in the country where they were trading, would to a very great extent cripple their fur trade and be a great loss of profit to themselves. They well knew that they could hold their own against any other traders from any place except those in the whisky traffic. They therefore added their voice to that of others asking the Canadian government to take some steps to put a stop to the illicit liquor traffic going on south of the Saskatchewan.

I have therefore shown some of the principal causes that first led to the organization of the North West Mounted Police, and briefly drawn a picture of the state of the North West Territories previous to their advent. It must be remembered that all that vast country west of Manitoba to the Rocky mountains and north of the American boundary line, was teeming with millions of buffalo, overrun with elk, deer, and antelope, and all the rivers were full of beaver and other fur bearing animals. From this source an almost fabulous amount of wealth in the way of furs had been derived by the Hudson’s Bay Company for over a century. Stories were in circulation regarding its wealth in minerals. This country was in the hands of a few lawless American traders. Their trade was doing incalculable injury to the tribes of untutored Indians on British soil. Therefore the time was fully ripe for the Canadian government to take some steps to ascertain what they really owned in Rupert’s land, and to occupy that vast territory and place it on some basis of civilization. All causes had tended to the same end, which was the eventual organization of the North West Mounted Police.

Continued in Organization of the Force.

Ruin of the Red Man

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The following is an excerpt from The Riders of the Plains: A Reminiscence of the Early and Exciting Days in the North West (1905), by Cecil Edward Denny. This work is in the public domain.

Continued from Chapter I: Condition of Canadian Northwest in 1872.

Chapter 2

Ruin of the Red Man

THE TRADE DERIVED from the Stony Indians was a valuable one, consisting nearly altogether of fine furs, such as fox, marten, beaver, otter, and many others.

This tribe had for some years been subject to missionary labor, which the plain Indians had not, and it was so far successful that they did not barter their furs for whisky, but confined their trade nearly altogether to the H.B. Co., either at their small post on Ghost river, or at their fort at Edmonton, on the Saskatchewan. A Mission had been built a few years before by this tribe on the Bow river, and at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, and Mr. McDougall, a minister of the Methodist persuasion, had resided some years among them prior to the advent of the police. This gentleman had also at various times visited some of the trading forts in the south, and had been able to observe the terrible effects the whisky traffic was having on those tribes coming into contact with it, and he was not backward with others who had passed through the country in making his voice heard in the east, by urging the Canadian government to take steps at once to put a stop to this iniquitous traffic.

His chances of observation were good, as he had lived many years among the Indians, and in fact partly supported himself and family by Indian trade. He also often went on the plains himself with a string of carts on a buffalo hunt for both meat and pelts. The latter he sent yearly overland to Winnipeg, some 700 miles, returning with a year’s supply of provisions and trading goods.

Other missionaries also were in the country, there being many Roman Catholic priests in the north along the North Saskatchewan river, but it was only on very rare occasions that any missionary visited the south, or any of the trading forts in that country, and no missionary labor whatever had been performed among the wild and fierce tribes of Blackfeet, Bloods, Piegan and Sarcee Indians who roamed the southern plains, they having so far been found intractable and unteachable, and the constant use of whisky had been so demoralizing that it was unsafe for a peaceable traveler to go among them.

A few other travelers had from time to time passed through the southern country with strong escorts, and brought bad reports of what they had heard and seen of the liquor traffic, and such men as Butler, Ross and Palliser had to be listened to.

However, with but few exceptions none of these travelers ventured far on the plains, the road generally taken by them if journeying south, being along the foot of the mountains, they sometimes visiting some of the traders’ posts for supplies, but most of the travel being from Winnipeg, went along the North Saskatchewan, calling at the different H.B. Co. trading posts, such as Ft. Carlton, Pitt and others until their arrival at Ft. Edmonton, from which post they generally took either the Jasper or Yellow Head Pass, through the mountains to British Columbia.

The distance from Ft. Edmonton to the nearest prominent American trading post, which was situated on the Elbow river not far from the present site of Calgary, was about 200 miles; nearly all of the country from 50 miles north of the Bow river being a timber country and the country of the Cree Indians, which Indians had always been bitter enemies of those of the plains, who never came into contact without a battle, although it is true that some bands of Blackfeet would go as far north as Edmonton to trade for articles they could not procure from the American traders, but these always took care to go in large parties, and even then seldom came south again without a collision with the Crees, in which generally many were killed. It was therefore seldom that travelers passed through the plains to the south, and when they were forced to do so, generally took a trail that ran along the foot of the mountains, and thus avoided coming in contact with the Indians who lived far out on the plains. There was therefore not much actual knowledge of the real state of things by individual observation, and for that reason the stories told were if anything far ahead of the real existing state of things.

Fabulous tales began to be told of the mineral wealth of the southern portion of the Territories, its climate, inhabitants and capabilities. Tales were told of Indians from the south trading gold dust and nuggets at the H.B. Co. forts in the north, of the use of golden bullets by the Indians in their old flint muskets, and many other equally astonishing tales, and of course the whisky trade was equally exaggerated, for although it was bad enough, it could not come up to the tales told of it.

We were told of companies of traders, drilled and armed, inhabiting strong forts protected by artillery, which would take a strong force of soldiers to dislodge, and that those traders were growing enormously wealthy from the proceeds of their unholy traffic, having the Indians in almost complete subjection to them.

Of course there was some foundation for these stories, in fact gold had been traded by the Blackfeet at Ft. Edmonton but this gold was the proceeds of the massacre of a party of emigrants, who it is supposed were on their way from the south to Peace river, as many rumors were in circulation in Montana as to the vast richness of the gold deposits in that river, and more than one outfit started out to reach this point who were never heard of again, being in all probability killed by the plain Indians before they left their country.

One instance I know of, that happened not many years previous to the advent of the police, a party consisting of men, women and children, with horses, wagons and provisions, were camped on the Old Man’s river, not far from the present site of Macleod; where they came from, and where they were going was never known, but they were supposed to be on the way from Montana to either Edmonton or Peace river, or were a party of emigrants who had lost their way on the plains. Their camp was visited by many bands of Blackfeet, who professed the greatest friendship for them, but at an unguarded moment they were attacked by Old Sun, a Blackfoot chief, and none were left to tell the tale. What horrible scenes took place can only be imagined, but the whole camp was wiped out as completely as if the earth had swallowed them up. The fair haired scalp of a woman that was for a long time in possession of Old Sun, and some gold dust traded by some Blackfeet at Fort Edmonton, were the only relics of the gruesome tragedy preserved.

Blackened remains of parts of wagons were to be seen long after the arrival of the Mounted Police, on the spot where once these unfortunate people camped.

Other causes that could indirectly be traced to the trade carried on by men from the American side of the line, led to the almost complete demoralization of the Indian tribes on the plains, and increased the stories circulated through Canada.

In the years 1870-71 a frightful epidemic of small pox swept off more than a third of the Indians belonging to the plain tribes. In some cases what had been powerful tribes dwindled down to only a few hundred souls. The Sarcees, who previous to the epidemic numbered several thousands, on the arrival of the police could only show three or four hundred. This frightful epidemic came among the Indians originally from the south. It is said by some to have first started at Fort Benton, on the Missouri River, being brought up that river on a steamer. Two men having the small pox were put off the boat at that place, and their clothing was given or traded to Indians after their death. There is, however, no doubt that it first spread into this country from the south. Southern traders were constantly passing between Montana and the North West Territories, and they were in continual communication with Canadian Indians, who also were often visiting American trading forts on the Missouri river. In all probability that was a means of spreading and developing the dread disease among the Indians of the plains.

The small pox was totally unknown to the Indians, who would flock round the trading posts and try and assuage their agonies with liquor, neglecting all cleanliness, and thereby spreading and intensifying the disease. The lodges of whole camps would be left standing on the river bottoms with nothing but the dead bodies in possession, the Indians leaving everything and flying either to the plains or forts for relief.

Doctors there were none, and with small pox and whisky combined, the Indians died off like sheep. They even became so desperate that they would try to spread the disease not only among themselves but among either white men or half breeds. I have been informed of cases where the Indians would pick off he scabs from their own bodies and leave them on the door handles or other places where white men or other Indians would come in contact with them. Their means of doctoring were most primitive, and some of the means they took for relief were almost certain death. A dose of nearly boiling whisky would be taken, and then an Indian in his agony would rush from his lodge, and plunge headlong into the ice-cold water of the river. In the winter they would break the ice and plunge in. This nearly always resulted in death, although to my astonishment I have been told that in some few cases a cure was the result.

The small pox then, combined with the whisky trade, with which it was indirectly connected, went far to cause, the rumors of demoralization among the Indians to be circulated in the east.

In the year 1871 some Indian traders from across the line located a trading post in the Cypress hills, to trade with the Indians in that section. The Cypress hills was in those days a kind of general battleground for the tribes of Indians, Assiniboines and Sioux on the south, Crees and Seauteaux on the north, and Blackfeet, Bloods, and Piegans on the west. Even the halfbreeds that came in large parties from Winnipeg to hunt the buffalo and make pemmican often came into collision with some of these tribes, and bloody battles were the result. The American traders who came to that place in 1871 and remained there during that winter, traded whisky to the different tribes who came there from time to time.

Two Indians belonging to the Seauteaux camp, a branch tribe of the Crees, where found shot dead by their friends, who laid the blame on the traders. They in turn laid the blame on the Bloods, some of which tribe had been in the vicinity. However, this matter was supposed to be settled by the traders who gave the Indians some presents, and even buried the two Seauteaux who had been killed.

A short time after this took place the traders were reinforced by a party of some twelve or fourteen white men from Benton, who, although they came ostensibly after stolen horses, had more or less connection with the traders, and certainly had no love for the Indians. The Seauteaux Indians near the fort were very poor, both in horses and arms, having in reality only half a dozen horses in camp. Their arms consisted of a few flintlock muskets, and bows and arrows. The Indians from the north, such as Crees and Seauteaux were not supplied with repeating rifles. It was seldom that they came in contact with American traders, from whom they could procure these arms. It was, therefore, certain that these Indians had not stolen the horses which the men from Benton were in search of. The stolen animals was supposed to be in the camp of a large party of Crees, some thirty miles away from the fort.

It was claimed by the traders that a Sauteaux Indian came to the fort and then rode off with a horse belonging to one of them. The white men went in a body to the Seauteaux camp to get revenge. They claimed that the Indians fired the first shot, which, however, did no harm. These men then sheltered themselves under a cutbank, and opened on the Indians, who, although they exceeded them in number, could do them little or no harm, as their arms were nothing in comparison to the repeating rifles and revolvers in the hands of the traders. The number of Indians was about 100, old and young, against 18 or 20 white men. The Indians were in the open or in their tents, while the white men were under cover. Nearly 40 Indians were killed, some being women; only one white man was killed. This fight was called the Cypress Hills massacre, and I think, appropriately.

The traders after this fight abandoned their fort, burning it, and went south. Some account of the massacre leaked out and was taken up by men in Montana, who were averse to the wholesale slaughter of Indians. The matter was referred to Washington, it being then thought that the Cypress hills was in American territory. The boundary line had not been run at that time, and in fact was not in that section until three years later. The government at Washington on ascertaining that this fight did not take place in the territory, referred the case to the government of Canada, which government took the matter up. This was another cause of hastening the organization of the N.W.M.P. The result of the trial of these traders some years afterwards will appear in a future chapter.

Continued in Cypress Hills Massacre.

Condition of Canadian West 1872

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The following is an excerpt from The Riders of the Plains: A Reminiscence of the Early and Exciting Days in the North West (1905), by Cecil Edward Denny. This work is in the public domain.


Chapter 1

Condition of Canadian West 1872

IN AND PREVIOUS TO the year 1872, reports had been widely circulated in Canada, and representations had been made to the Dominion government, that the vast country lying west of Manitoba to the Rocky Mountains, and from the North Saskatchewan to the American boundary on the south, was infested with lawless companies of traders from the territory of Montana, lying south of the line on the American side.


The small town of Fort Benton, on the Missouri River, in that territory was the point of supply to these parties, and outside of the few goods, such as blankets, tobacco, ammunition, etc., their chief stock in trade consisted of liquor, and that of the poorest quality. The objective point of these traders was north of the boundary in the North West Territories of Canada, and the trade was altogether with the Indians residing in that country. The leading firms in the town of Benton were not behind the rest in sending out parties, well supplied with whisky and other goods, to trade in Canadian territory, and in fact today the two head partners in the largest and richest business firms in that state owe their great wealth and good standing, one to two lucky years of whisky trading on Sheep Creek, south of the present city of Calgary, and the other to the same cause, on the Missouri River. This trade of liquor to the Indians had been gradually increasing for many years previous to 1873, in fact ever since the Hudson’s Bay Company put a stop to it in their own trading posts, which trade they had carried on from time immemorial, with immense profits to themselves, but they put a stop to it as soon as they saw that settlement of the country was imminent.

This illicit trade finally assumed such proportions that the American traders on many of the rivers of the present Territory of Alberta had gained such a foothold that they had built themselves forts, and were permanently located in the country, making these forts their headquarters and during the summer months sending parties with trading goods to all parts of the country.

       These forts were built of logs, and strongly fashioned, and in some cases the bastions were even armed with cannon of small caliber.

The principal fort of this kind was at the junction of the Belly and St. Mary’s rivers, some 50 miles in Canadian territory, and was named “Whoopup,” the name being derived from the fact that one of the former occupants of the fort who was outfitted by T.C. Powers, of Ft. Benton, was at one time making a good trade, but ran out of whisky; so he sent a messenger to Benton to Powers, to send more at once, as he was whooping it up in his trade, hence the fort took this name. This fort was a rendezvous for all the traders of the country, being a point of supply to all northern and other small trading forts, of which there were many scattered along the different rivers.

This fort was on the direct trail to Ft. Benton, about 200 miles south, and was built as far back as the year 1868 by two Benton traders, Messrs Healey and Hamilton, who took an active part in the trade with the Canadian Indians. Both of these men married Blackfeet women, and their sons and daughters who were sent to school in Montana, are now well married, and can hold their own, as far as education is concerned, with the white settlers among whom they mix.

At this particular fort a large stock of whisky or alcohol was always on hand, together with other articles of trade such as blankets, beads, provisions and clothing of all kinds, and in the spring, when the buffalo robes (the chief article of trade) were brought from other outlying forts, being the result of the winter trade, the store rooms were packed to the roof with tens of thousands of these valuable furs, worth from three to as high as ten dollars a piece, according to their quality. A split robe, being one cut down the middle and then sewn together with sinew, was not of near the value of what was called a head and tail, or complete robe, which ranged in price from five to ten dollars.

These robes, the result of a winter’s trade, were then forwarded to Ft. Benton by horse or ox teams, and from there down the Missouri river by the large traders in Benton who had advanced the goods, or liquor, to those in the north, who then loaded their teams with a fresh supply of goods and returned for another year’s trade into Canadian territory.

These traders did not confine themselves to the trade in buffalo robes, but bought from the Indians, horses and anything else they might take a fancy to. The price given in whisky or alcohol was absurdly small; a small cup of diluted alcohol being often traded for a prime robe, which would fetch in Benton from five to seven dollars. Most advantageous bargains were often made with half drunken Indians, who, when in that state, would sell anything they had for more whisky.

Hundreds of horses were thus bought, but not always with such profit to the trader, who, had he confined his trade to robes alone, which could be safely stored away in the forts, his trade would have been comparatively safe, while horses had to be herded, and many a watchful eye was on them as long as they remained in the country, and it was a common thing for Indians to run off large bands of horses, not only those they had themselves traded, but often those belonging to the traders themselves. These raids were even made as the trains loaded with robes were on their way south, and constant vigilance had to be exercised in watching the bands at night, and in all weathers, as the more stormy it was, the greater danger of their being run off.

No mercy was shown to skulking Indians, who were shot on sight, and as these parties going south with their winter’s trade consisted often of as many as twenty men, serious fights often took place in which many were killed, the Indians general the losers, owing to the white men being well armed with repeating rifles, while the Indians at that time had little else but flintlock muskets, or even bows and arrows.

It was not until some years after that repeating rifles and fixed ammunition were general among the plains Indians, when many more traders came north to reap the rich harvest to be gathered in the Indian trade.

When the Mounted Police came into the country, the Blackfoot were nearly all armed with repeating rifles, as the whisky trade had become a recognized business with hundreds of men from the south, and rifles and ammunition were traded as well as whisky, and permanent trading posts had been established. The Indians had such a craving for liquor that not only did they sell their robes and horses, but also their women, and I doubt if there was a trader in the country who did not have from one to three squaws, bought for liquor.

One instance I remember, of an old whisky trader informing me that the squaw he then had was Number 57, bought by him at different times from Indians during his career as a trader in the country.

These traders then held the Indians in almost complete subjection, not on account of any friendship the Indians had for them, as they would take any and every opportunity to raid and kill any small party or single individual found away from the trading posts, but by the almost ungovernable passion the Indians had for liquor; their greatest chiefs and bravest warriors would crawl on the ground and give up all they possessed for a cup of whisky, and as the American traders were the only ones from whom they could procure this liquor, and as the traders allowed only a limited number of Indians to trade at a time, the Indians would do all they could to encourage them to remain among them, and in but few cases would have wished them to leave.

Also as nearly all these traders had married Indian women, according to the Indian custom, that is by purchase, and in many cases, the women were connected with some of the leading chiefs, they had a certain influence through these women with the Indians themselves, for, strange as it may seem, the women in most cases became attached to the white men with whom they lived, and used their influence in the tribe for the benefit of their husbands, and in many instances would undertake to trade whisky in the camps in making a sharp bargain for their masters.

The system of whisky trading had gradually demoralized and to a great extent decimated what at one time were large and powerful tribes (not only as far as numbers were concerned) and had taken the courage and spirit out of what remained, so that their former active and healthy mode of life was gradually being superseded by a loafing, half-drunken existence, the men only hunting to supply themselves with what meat they required, and to get robes enough to buy them the required amount of liquor and other necessities.

This was all the more easy as they had acquired the new firearm which was a hundred times more destructive than the old flintlocks or the bows and arrows, and therefore the amount of exertion required to kill the buffalo, which still roamed the plains in immense herds, was greatly lessened, and the number killed much larger, with less exertion, and the old time hunts were turned into a slaughter.

As the traders multiplied in the country and whisky became more plentiful, the Indians could procure more of it and in consequence many more robes were traded, each year tending to the destruction of the buffalo.

The result of this trade on the Indians, as I have before said, would lead them towards complete extinction if not put a stop to.

The gradual extinction going on was caused by the liquor trade both directly and indirectly.

Indirectly, as regards the numbers killed in their drunken fights, as often a whole camp would get drunk, and the trader was careful to leave before that climax was reached, and the Indians in these debauches would act more like wild beasts than human beings, and during its progress often was many as a dozen men, women and children would be killed, old grudges were remembered and only wiped out by the death of one or more.

Diseases spread among the tribes unknown to them before, and many died from such causes.

It will be understood that the liquor trade was confined to the south and southwest only, and principally among the plains Indians, as the H.B. Co. had withdrawn their trading posts from this section, confining themselves form the North Saskatchewan, northward and eastward, and when the Mounted Police came into the country they had only one small trading post south of the North Saskatchewan, it being on a small river near the mountains, about 30 miles west of the present city of Calgary, and this post was for the purpose of catching the trade of the small tribe of Stony Indians, a branch of the Assiniboines, who confined themselves to hunting in the mountains, and seldom went on the plains, they being at war with the Blackfeet. The Hudson’s Bay Company had given up the liquor trade some years before the advent of the Mounted Police.

Continued in Ruin of the Red Man.

Introduction to ‘The Riders of the Plains’

Back to The Riders of the Plains.

The following is an excerpt from The Riders of the Plains: A Reminiscence of the Early and Exciting Days in the North West (1905), by Cecil Edward Denny. This work is in the public domain.


THE SUBJECT ON WHICH this book is written is one which must be of deep interest, not only to those now living in the N.W. Territories, comprising the divisions of Alberta (in which the principal scenes are laid) Saskatchewan and Assiniboia, but to all Canadians who take a pride in the advancement of their country, and more particularly in the opening of the prosperous and important western section known as the North West Territories. It is now thirty years since that far western territory was first opened, and it was then looked upon by those in Canada as Terra Incognita. Three hundred, mostly hardy Canadians, with a sprinkling of old countrymen among them, after incredible hardships, penetrated into the then Rupert’s Land. I therefore will try to give a brief synopsis of the opening of the North West Territories to settlement in the year 1874 by the advent of the North West Mounted Police, the causes that led to the organization of that force, after the Hudson’s Bay Company had sold their rights to Rupert’s Land to the Canadian government.

The beginning of opening of this western section of Canada commenced with the organization of the North West Mounted Police, which force after the greatest hardships and privations, crossed the vast plains from Winnipeg, Manitoba, with little or no knowledge of their ultimate destination, which was supposed to be a vast area of country lying at and along the east slope of the Rocky Mountains from the boundary line on the south to the North Saskatchewan on the north and from longitude 114 to the British Columbia line in the west.

I will also in this sort volume try to picture what state of things existed in that far western country prior to the advent of the North West Mounted Police, what work was before them; what work they actually did; what difficulties they overcame; and the results thus attained after years of hardship, bravely borne, and in many cases, individual bravery of a rare order shown. Also the benefits derived by the country from their advent, which suddenly springing from gross savagery to a settled, civilized, and law abiding territory, in a few short years, is today the wonder of the world.

I will try in this volume to show that this wonderful progress in so short a time against odds that heretofore many nations have spent millions to overcome, was accomplished by a small force of 300 officers and men, and will give a short history of their work, hazardous journeys in the performance of their duties, and also a history of the rapid advancement of the country now known as the North West Territories. The subject is itself one of deep interest at the present day, when as at the advent of the police, the North West Territories were a lone land cut off from civilization, and only inhabited by the tribes of savage Indians, roaming the plains in quest of game, on which they altogether lived. The immense herds of buffalo supplied them not only with food, but with clothing, tents, and nearly all they required. The robes were traded, partly at the Hudson’s Bay forts on the North Saskatchewan, but unfortunately the plains Indians such as the Blackfeet, seldom visited these northern trading posts without coming in hostile contact with the Cree Indians, who had long resided along the North Saskatchewan, and were to a great extent under the rule of the Hudson’s Bay Company, which company had given up what a few trading forts they originally had in the Blackfoot country. At other times these Indians went far south to the Missouri River and traded their furs at Fort Benton to the American traders, who, well knowing the weakness of all North American Indians for strong drink, habitually purchased these valuable furs for a few glasses of whisky.

The fact of these American whisky traders from Montana coming into the Territories, drew the attention of the Canadian government to the vast unknown territory they held in the west, unknown, because the Hudson’s Bay Company had never reported that any section of the country over which they had control was of any value whatever, for it was obviously in their interests, so they thought, to belittle the resources of Rupert’s Land- a disastrous policy from the point of view of the settler, and one which retarded the settlement of that fertile country for many generations. There were vague reports that American traders from the south were doing, during the summer months, a large trade with the Blackfeet and other plains Indians, this trade on their part being done in whisky, while the Indians not only traded the robes gained by them during their summer hunts, but were becoming demoralized, and were trading horses, and almost anything they owned, even to their women, for this horrible compound sold as whisky by these traders. This attracted the attention of the Canadian government, and in the year 1874 a force was organized and sent west into then Rupert’s Land to drive out these American whisky traders, and to get into communication with and gain the confidence of the thousands of wild, uncivilized Indians belonging to Canada, who roamed the western plains, and to try (a unique experiment) by moral suasion, to bring them into the ways of civilization. This was done by a small force of 300 officers and men from the year 1874 until the Canadian Pacific Railroad was built in 1885, and I write this book to give a short history of our march into this country, what we found when we arrived, the work we did and the results thereof.

Few of the original 300 officers and men that first came into the country are left. Some died in the country, and the hardships they endured did not lengthen their lives, others are scattered over the world. A few, but a very few, are still in the country, and to these men, many of them old, poor and crippled, is due the thanks not only of the Canadian government, but of every settler in the thriving towns and villages and peaceful farms, now thickly scattered through Alberta, Saskatchewan and Assiniboia. Let them pause and think what must have been the hardships endured by such a small force of men; marching into an unknown country, inhabited by thousands of savage Indians, building forts, dealing justly with these Indians, stamping out the illicit liquor trade, and so dealing with the Indian tribes that from that time until today, no settler has been murdered, and when the country settled, all lives have been safe and property secure. The settlers of the North West Territories have not had to go through the experiences of those of Minnesota and other American states and territories where the settler had to meet the Indian. No massacres have taken place, but a few head of stock stolen, no depredation committed. But railroads have been built, homesteads taken up, towns started and rapidly growing, and not one hitch has occurred. Many of the new towns are in close proximity to large Indian reserves, but yet the Indians themselves are progressing, although decreasing, and hundreds of them today work for the settler. Therefore let the farmer comfortably located on his ranche in Alberta or Assiniboia, sometimes give a thought and a prayer of thanks to that hardy, courageous 300, who opened the country for him, and by courage, forbearance, and clear moral suasion, made it possible for the settler to live in peace and quietness when, but for these men- and all praise be to them for it- battle and murder and sudden death would have been the portion of many, as was the case in the early settlement of the western Territories of the United States.

Continued in Condition of Canadian West in 1872.

The Riders of the Plains: A Reminiscence of the Early and Exciting Days in the North West (1905)

The Riders of the Plains

A Reminiscence of the Early and Exciting Days in the North West

By Sir Cecil Denny, 1905

The following constitutes the memoirs of Sir Cecil Edward Denny, an Inspector of the North West Mounted Police who marched west with the Force from Fort Dufferin, Manitoba, in 1874 in order to suppress the illegal whisky trade which was taking place in what is now southern Alberta and southwest Saskatchewan. These memoirs were originally published in 1905 by the Herald Company of Calgary, Alberta, and are now in the public domain.

The original book contains inconsistent spellings, irregular capitalizations and lowercasings, and some instances of questionable grammar and punctuation. The organizer of this arrangement has done his best to reproduce the original content as accurately as possible, and has only corrected a handful of spelling mistakes which were undeniably unintended.


Table of Contents


Chapter 1 – Condition of the Canadian Northwest, 1872

Chapter 2 – Ruin of the Red Man

Chapter 3 – Cypress Hills Massacre

Chapter 4 – Organization of the Force

Chapter 5 – Off for the West

Chapter 6 – On the March

Chapter 7 – Lost on the Plains

Chapter 8 – Among the Whiskey Traders

Chapter 9 – Building Fort Macleod

Chapter 10 – Critical Conditions

Chapter 11 – Slaughter of the Buffalo

Chapter 12 – Severe Trip to Helena

Chapter 13 – Journey to Red Deer

Chapter 14 – Building the Village of Calgary

Chapter 15 – Arrival of Sitting Bull

Chapter 16 – Treaty of 1877 Described

Chapter 17 – Winter in Calgary, 1877

Chapter 18 – Indian Medicine Dance

Chapter 19 – A Strange Adventure

Chapter 20 – Troubles with the Sioux

Chapter 21 – Famine among the Blackfeet

Chapter 22 – After a Murderer

Chapter 23 – Trouble with Indians at Calgary

Chapter 24 – Indian Farm Started

Chapter 25 – Governor-General visits Northwest

Chapter 26 – Trouble with Blackfeet

Chapter 27 – Trouble with the Southern Indians

Chapter 28 – Western Indians become Restless

Chapter 29 – Treaty Indians making Progress

Chapter 30 – The Northwest Rebellion

Chapter 31 – Indians of the South kept Quiet

Chapter 32 – After the Northwest Rebellion

Chapter 33 – Some Advice to Settlers

Chapter 34 – Progress of the Territories